Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Tzili: The Story of a Life

Rate this book
In this moving and tender tale of a young girl living in the shadow of the Holocaust, Aharon Appelfeld weaves an individual's unique story. Tzili was the youngest, least favored member of a large Jewish family. Her schooling was a failure; all she retained from her religious instruction was one prayer. Simple and meek, she was more at home with the animals in the fields than with her own kin. So when her family fled Hitler's encroaching armies, it was Tzili who stayed behind, and it was Tzili who lived alone in the forest, sought refuge with the peasants, found love, and survived.

Aharon Appelfeld imbues her story with a harrowing beauty that is emblematic of an entire people's fate.

186 pages, Paperback

Published April 9, 1996

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Aharon Appelfeld

94 books176 followers
AHARON APPELFELD is the author of more than forty works of fiction and nonfiction, including Until the Dawn's Light and The Iron Tracks (both winners of the National Jewish Book Award) and The Story of a Life (winner of the Prix Médicis Étranger). Other honors he has received include the Giovanni Bocaccio Literary Prize, the Nelly Sachs Prize, the Israel Prize, the Bialik Prize, the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, and the MLA Commonwealth Award. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has received honorary degrees from the Jewish Theological Seminary, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and Yeshiva University.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
64 (19%)
4 stars
139 (42%)
3 stars
90 (27%)
2 stars
25 (7%)
1 star
9 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 29 of 53 reviews
Profile Image for Ilse (away until November).
475 reviews3,124 followers
July 17, 2020
How to Tell what cannot be Told

Perhaps it would be better to leave the story of Tzili Kraus’s life untold. Her fate was a cruel and inglorious one, and but for the fact that it actually happened we would never have been able to tell her story.

With this placid, simple opening sentences, Aharon Appelfeld starts to tell the haunting story of Tzili, a not too bright 12 year old Jewish girl who is abandoned by her large family as they flee for the Nazis invading Ukraine. She is left alone to look after the house, her parents presuming nobody would harm such a pitiful, feebleminded girl like Tzili. Inevitably, she has to flee also, into the silent fields and forests, to survive, like Appelfeld himself had to do.

This slim novel, more a parablesque novella actually, was a magnificent and poignant introduction to the work of a Jewish writer I wasn’t aware of until I read a rave review on a 2016 Dutch translation of his 2003 novel Suddenly, Love.

Aharon Appelfeld was born in Czernowitz, Bukovina, then Romania (now Ukraine) in 1932, and was deported to a Nazi concentration camp at the age of 8. Appelfeld could escape and wandered around the Ukraine countryside for three years, eventually joining the Russian army as a kitchen aid, and immigrating to Palestine, in 1946. He learned Hebrew there, feeling the need to learn the language of an extinguished civilisation. He began to write in Hebrew in his forties, as his mother tongue, German wasn’t appropriate anymore to deal with his main theme, Jewish life in Europe before, during and after the Holocaust. His friend Philip Roth described Appelfeld as “a dislocated writer, a deported writer, a dispossessed and uprooted writer. A displaced writer of displaced fiction, who has made of displacement and disorientation a subject uniquely his own.” Roth gave Appelfeld a cameo role in his novels Operation Shylock: A Confession (in which the character Pipik is reading Tzili), and in Deception.

However, Appelfeld’s literary subject is not the Holocaust itself. Himself a survivor with similar experiences like Tzili in the forests of Ukraine, he consciously opted to write the book as a fiction, considering the work of imagination ultimately more believable than an account of his ‘real’ life:
The reality of the Holocaust surpassed any imagination. If I remained true to the facts, no one would believe me. But the moment I chose a girl, a little older than I was at that time, I removed ''the story of my life'' from the mighty grip of memory and gave it over to the creative laboratory. There memory is not the only proprietor. There one needs a causal explanation, a thread to tie things together. The exceptional is permissible only if it is part of an overall structure and contributes to its understanding. I had to remove those parts which were unbelievable from ''the story of my life'' and present a more credible version.

Appelfeld considers his own memories as the material to build and imagine stories with, and is not interested in rendering a plain autobiographical testimony of the Holocaust, as reality outdid every imagination in the suffering of the Jews. He chose a girl, slighty older than he was then, in order to objectivise and fictionalise his own excruciating experiences in the Ukraine woods.

Evidently, writing on the theme of the Holocaust is infinitely delicate and thorny. Survivors have written many autobiographical accounts of their survival, and it is a substantial theme and subject in fiction too. Not everyone takes the stand of Elie Wiesel that “A novel about Auschwitz is not a novel, or else it is not about Auschwitz”. Survivors like Appelfeld and Imre Kertész on the contrary are convinced that fiction on the subject of the Shoah is revelatory of a deeper truth than the purely factual: ”The concentration camp is imaginable only and exclusively as literature, never as reality”.(Kertész). Both Appelfeld and Kertész categorize their work, although often regarded as mainly autobiographical, as fiction. In their opinion, fiction can come closer to truth than autobiography.

With Tzili, Appelfeld recounts a clandestine life of flight and hiding. In an unsentimental, distant tone, he intensely evokes Tzili’s horrendous experiences. The war, the extermination camps and its well-known atrocities are only touched indirectly, as a gloomy soundtrack subtly played in the background.

Driven by physical impulses and needs rather than by emotions or thoughts, in a mental state beyond despair or hope, numb and mute, like an animal, Tzili endures her plight in an almost perfect silence.

Here were only cows, cows and speechlessness.

In her weakness, she learns to find strength and power in what happens to her body when becoming a woman. However vexing her circumstances, her numb mind is unbroken by the barrenness of her existence or by the savagery of the peasants she seeks shelter with in Winter, their brutal lusting after her, the harsh work for them strengthening and muscling up her arms and legs: 'She was with herself, or rather with her body.'

Living in the open on the rhythm of seasons, foraging for food in the fields and forests in Summer and Autumn, she merges with the landscape, exposed to the weather and the elements, living reduced to bare necessities: sleeping, bread. Fundamental moments in a woman’s life - menarche, a first, fragile love and pregnancy - she has to face without her mother’s presence, in uttermost loneliness, disquiet and insecurity, but there is no anger or bitterness. Despite nature’s uncongeniality and harshness, it also offers some moments of blissful intimacy and comfort in her loneliness, like a ray of sunlight touching her face, fresh water in a brook or the innocent presence of animals:
She did not know what one said to cows, but she felt the warmth emanating from their bodies seeping into her.

On the closing of the tale, Appelfeld shows how heavy the burden of surviving the Shoah will be for the few camp survivors. He rises the troubling question how to reconstruct a viable life after surviving, how to rebuild a new identity, a new human form – and the terrible theme of being torn with guilt for surviving and letting down family members who perished in the horror.

This moving, deeply disturbing and powerful novella also inspired a 2014 film by the Israeli film director Amos Gitai.
Profile Image for Elina.
494 reviews
April 25, 2019
"Η Τσίλι δεν είναι ένα μυθιστόρημα για το Ολοκαύτωμα, είναι απλούστατα ένα μυθιστόρημα για τη μικρή Τσίλι και τον αγώνα της να ζήσει και να ευτυχήσει.". Είναι μια φράση από το Επίμετρο του Σταύρου Ζουμπουλάκη. Ένα διαφορετικό βιβλίο για τους διωγμούς των Εβραίων, μέσα από τα αθώα μάτια ενός παιδιού με νοητική υστέρηση, που όμως μπορεί πιο εύκολα να προσαρμοστεί στις παράλογες συνθήκες. Ένα εκπληκτικό μυθιστόρημα, ύμνος στην ανθρωπιά και την απανθρωπιά. Ύμνος στην διπολική υπόσταση του ανθρώπου.
Συστήνεται ανεπιφύλακτα!!!
Profile Image for Netta.
184 reviews134 followers
October 25, 2017
Tzili is a stand-alone among the majority of WWII fiction books I’ve read so far. Unlike many other novels devoted to this frightening, dark period of time which focus usually on a happy, loving family being washed away by cruelty and ruthlessness of time, Tzili tells the story of an abandoned girl, left behind by her always dissatisfied with her family. There’s no love, no understanding, not even a glimpse of hope for some sort of happy ending and this, I ought to admit, hurts me more than many happy-then-broken family stories.

And yet this novel, depicting godforsaken lives, does not truly belong to the real world to me. It's told in a way of a surreal nightmare or a grim, hopeless fairytale. Aharon Appelfeld deliberately uses very plain, undecorated language and short, simple sentences, creating his story matter-of-factly and never going overboard. He always states facts, merely observing the world and his characters, as if doing nothing to properly, actually create them and yet doing everything to make his story hurt its readers almost physically. However, to reduce this novel to its plot (and plot alone) would be to oversimplify it and the author’s intentions.

The most terrifying thing about this story lies in its opening lines: “Perhaps it would be better to leave the story of Tzili Kraus’s life untold”. How miserable and pointless Tzili’s life must be! How little value it possesses in the world and how many stories, similar to this, were actually left untold because there were no one interested in them or simply because no one cared. Tzili reminded me of another girl, Patrick Modiano’s Dora Bruder, who evoked the same feeling in me – as if by reading this book, even though it’s partly a product of writer’s imagination, I pay a little tribute to all those whose stories were too quiet, too private or not heroic enough to be told. Appelfeld, it seems, pays his own tribute too, as he strips away all fancy decorations of the prose, rejects every tool he might have used to make a reader sympathetic. What is left in his story is the core, the story itself left to be judged.
Profile Image for Mehmet.
Author 2 books423 followers
September 21, 2022
""İnsan nedir?"
"Topraktır ve tozdur," diye yanıtlardı Tsili."

Gelelim haftamın son okumasına. Tsili, beni oldukça etkileyen holokosta dair bir kitap. Köle ve Boyalı Kuş kitapları ile benzer etkiler bıraktı. Ancak Köle kadar değil elbette. Bu kitapta acı, dram, hüzün ve umutsuzluk duygusu çok iyi anlatılmış. Beni en çok etkileyen Mark karakteri oldu.

Farklı olana duyulan düşmanlık, farklı olmanın zorluğu.
Bir de, "onlar gibi olamamak".
Bu kitap bunun romanı.

Tsili'yi okuyun, tanıyın onu.
Çok da uzak değil holokost.
Ve diğer soykırımlar da.

Bir şarkı: Agnes Obel - Aventine

M. Baran
Profile Image for Tara.
Author 23 books560 followers
November 15, 2017
Beautifully written in spare, fable-like prose. The narrator, Tzili, is not a bright young woman. She is emotionally abused by her parents, and curls into herself when taking the animals to pasture. She is more at home in the fields and pens than in her own hut. Which is the basis for her survival. After the Germans invade what is most likely Ukraine (not specified is the location), her family abandons her to look after their farm. Tzili flees and spends about two years serving peasants and being verbally and physically abused. She is treated almost as harshly as she would have been treated in some work camps. However, she is free. And she takes advantage of that freedom and flees whenever she has the chance, generally in the spring after the harsh winter conditions.

She eventually finds a sort of predatory love, and joins a band of survivors near the end. Their tale of what happens "after" the Holocaust is over is almost as heart rending as during. No easy endings or answers here, according to Appelfeld, and he lets the book's narration drift away on the last page as he turns the focus on another character, something I've never seen done in literature before. The reader is left to decide why. But there is a glimmer of hope. Which the reader needs, after the dark, harrowing, cold journey Tzili has been on.
Profile Image for Larnacouer  de SH.
733 reviews162 followers
January 7, 2023
“[…] Seni bekledim. Nerdesin?”
“Çok yakınındayım, ama saklandığım yerden çıkamam. Ölüm göründüğü kadar korkunç değil. Sadece korkuyu yenmek lazım.”


Bazılarınızın yüzeysel diye eleştirebileceği kadar sade ama garip bir şekilde etkileyici bir kitap. Kısacık olmasına rağmen okuru uzun uzadıya düşünmeye ve sessizliğe itiyor.

Yazarla ilk tanışmam; sözgelimi kitap, yazarın kendi hayat hikayesiyle paralellik taşıdığı için etkileyici olabilir mi diye sorguladım, böyle düşününce bu potansiyel dahilinde konuyu dramatize etmeden bu kadar minimalist bi’ şekilde işlemesine ayrı hayran kaldım. Özetle sayesinde yıla güzel bir başlangıç yaptım, önerimdir.
Profile Image for Barbaraw - su anobii aussi.
239 reviews29 followers
March 1, 2018
Appefeld può farlo.
Scrittura spoglia, al limite della comunicazione autistica. E' una scrittura senza pietà, che non tenta abbellimenti in una situazione da sopravvivenza. Il personaggio della "bambina" è molto forte: vivamo con lei sensazioni primordiali, con lei non capiamo, ma ci tocca andare avanti, ad ogni modo. Pochi hanno osato scrivere di quel momento sospeso, dopo i campi, prima di ogni rielaborazione. Alpeffeld può farlo.
Profile Image for Deborah Feingold.
20 reviews18 followers
May 12, 2016
As it should be,everything about this story is disorienting. Appelfeld perfectly captures the other-worldly effects of losing one's family, one's childhood, one's language and even one's memories. Tzili's story is complicated because she is an outcast even before the war begins. The depiction of imperfect parents and siblings,as well as complicated portrayals of fellow refugees forces us to see the individuality within the chaos and mass suffering. There are no conclusions to be drawn other than that even an uneducable castoff may have within her the resourcefulness and temperament to survive the most abject of circumstances. From assuming someone else's identity Tzili ultimately reclaims her own.
Profile Image for Sarah.
365 reviews36 followers
June 22, 2014
Not sure what to make of this. One of those slim, powerful things that you might find in secondary reading lists... not sure it's very deep, really, though it's certainly grim. An atypical, desperate, solitary experience of the holocaust without a single ray of light - but no histrionics either.
Profile Image for Theresa.
316 reviews1 follower
December 9, 2017
I did not finish this book, therefore I'm not going to rate it. Ordinarily if I have to abandon a book I have no problem rating it a one star and warning others of the torture it was to read. But I feel this case is different somehow. I have heard such wonderful things about this story from other readers whose opinions I respect so I can't help but feel the fault is in me and my ability to understand the nuances of this very literary piece of writing. I truly tried on at least three occasions to sit down and concentrate fully on the words and meaning between words of this story. However, I finally decided if it was taking that much time and effort it was best to abandon the book. It would have been different had I needed to read this for some reason. I found myself frustrated almost to tears at one point (I'm being honest here!) Ultimately, reading is supposed to be a pleasant pastime and unfortunately that was not happening here. I hope others will have better luck.

*notes for myself
Tried reading beginning 4/21/17, finally abandoned 12/3/17
Profile Image for ☕Laura.
525 reviews137 followers
August 29, 2014
This is the story of Tzili, a simple young Jewish girl abandoned by her family who manages to survive from day to day without ever fully comprehending the enormity of the holocaust occurring around her. It is a very short, quick read but the writing is lovely and with an economy of words the author manages to convey a strong sense of emotion.
Profile Image for David.
Author 12 books137 followers
September 26, 2017
This is a beautiful little tale, for the ugliness it contains. It's certainly vivid and earthy, simple and stark. It's a surprisingly enjoyable read.
Profile Image for Koray.
213 reviews51 followers
April 26, 2023
"... Ayakları büyümüştü, sert zeminde emin adımlarla yürüyordu artık. Ve bir şey daha öğrenmişti: Erkekler ve kadınlar vardı, aralarında da ebedi düşmanlık..."
"... Hayatı iş,unutuş ve açıklaması olmayan anlık zevklerden ibaretti..."
"...Hepsinden önemlisi de rüzgarın ve suyun kıymetini bilmeyi öğrenmişti..."
"...Linda bir süre sonra kendi kendine off dedi, bu yeniden doğuş meselesinden tiksiniyorum..."
Profile Image for Yi.
204 reviews11 followers
August 24, 2014
I found this book in a small bookstore in Netanya, Israel. I really wanted to find books written by Israeli authors about the Jewish people while in Israel.

This book is a sad yet powerful story about a young Eastern European Jewish girl who was abandoned by her own family; endured tremendous hardships seeking refugee amongst local farmers; had a tragic glimpse of love while hiding in the forest during the Holocaust; and, bravely began a new life in Palestine. Appelfeld's brilliant style of writing makes one glued to the pages despite the difficult subject of the book. The book is a celebration of the human spirit and its strong will for survival. I enjoyed it immensely!!!
Profile Image for Juan Hidalgo.
Author 1 book41 followers
October 21, 2014
Frente a los horrores del holocausto, la historia de Tzili supone una especie de cuento breve, original y amable, en el que el espanto de la guerra queda casi soslayado y sólo se vislumbra fugazmente. Tzili es una criatura inocente y sencilla que sobrevive a las tragedias casi por casualidad y por la ayuda, más o menos desinteresada, de las personas con las que cruza su destino.
Profile Image for belisa.
1,056 reviews29 followers
August 31, 2018
sonunda yeniden başlayıp bir solukta okudum, bu adamın acıyı incelikli anlatışından çok hoşlanıyorum, kesinlikle bağırmadan, zırlamadan yalın bir şekilde...
Profile Image for Max Heimowitz.
205 reviews3 followers
April 2, 2020
Tzili is, at face-value, not what you might expect when you open a book about the Holocaust. Appelfed was partially inspired by his own life experiences in the writing of this work, but it's a fictionalized narrative based on a somewhat true events. Which raises a lot of questions in itself, regarding Holocaust literature.

The framing of the narrative is a little strange; Tzili is not given the opportunity to narrate herself. She doesn't really do much herself, either, throughout the story--she comes into contact with several people, all of whom beat her, chastise her, reject her, impregnate her, or leave her. It's a meager, despair-filled existence. Tzili also lacks depth, for she's at an impressionable age, yet doesn't have access to any figure that could leave a valuable impression upon her. She's truly alone, fending for herself, adopting to role of "Maria's daughter," Maria being a woman who has several children and to whom no respect is paid. She lacks the language to articulate the events that occur around her, she's not outwardly "Jewish" (there is no physical marker or accent that would lead anyone to believe her as such), and she's not very intelligent, having failed in school. But these very negative facets of her life are what prevent much more harm from being caused.

There's much to speak on the gender dynamics in this story--Mark impregnates her, taking advantage of her, and his unrequited love for her. Mark re-appears several times after leaving her, as if he is the driving force behind her desire to push forward; she looks to his absence for reassurance. Other male figures intervene and help her on her way, as well. Much of her support system comes from male characters and their interactions with her. And especially given that his story is written by a man, Aharon Appelfeld, it read a little odd to me. I don't mean to discredit his writing of this story, but the male perspective/narrative style/gaze is apparent in this story writ large.

What's especially interesting about this story is that Tzili is not directly involved with the events of the Holocaust; she experiences its repercussions on a more indirect level. But take that with a grain of salt, because there is deeper meaning in the narrative structure. And I don't mean to privilege any one narrative over another, as there is no need to rank or create a hierarchy of stories.

Despite the criticism, the story is easy to read, and provides a fascinating perspective on the Holocaust that might otherwise have been left untold. It was enjoyable in that it was interesting, but not in that the material was "fun" to read.
Profile Image for Bachyboy.
561 reviews10 followers
October 11, 2016
A strange, slightly disturbing book of a young Jewish girl, the least favoured in her family, who is left behind to care for their property when the rest of her family flee Hitler's encroaching armies. She seeks refuge in the forest among the peasants and her tale is turbulent and harrowing.
Profile Image for Raquel Peñalver.
40 reviews1 follower
May 7, 2019
Yo debo tener horchata en las venas...
El tema ya está muy sobre explotado de manera que, o es una historia fuera de serie o se queda en una historia más, después de El Diario de Ana Frank y El Niño con el Pijama de Rayas (por poner dos ejemplos) se queda en una historia más.
19 reviews
December 27, 2022
This book’s main strength is the simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! And its clarity, clarity, clarity!

It is a short and easy text that won’t perplex or confuse you. The story and the narrative are pretty straightforward; they read like a fable.

But don’t let this description make you think this is an insignificant or ‘little’ story and book. This book’s significance is massive. And I’m amazed and awed by the author’s skill to express the depths of the human soul, the ugliness and the beauty of humanity, the extremes of life so clearly and simply. This is an amazing skill.

The story relates to the Holocaust but it doesn’t necessarily revolve around it alone. This is possible because Tzili, who is the main character in the book, has escaped the Nazi Camps and the book does not involve scenes or descriptions of life in the camps. Instead, the book examines the war and the Holocaust from the periphery, from the outskirts of the deadly camps.

This is a universal story that speaks about what is to be human and remain innocent despite experiencing evil.

I divide the book in three parts (Tzili living with the peasants; Tzili living with Mark; and Tzili living with the Holocaust survivors). All three parts (they are all brief), shed lights to different parts of what is to be human.

It is one of the most captivating books I have ever read and I will always remember that it was possible to express such a plethora of meanings via a simple language and structure.

Profile Image for Yobaín Vázquez.
261 reviews7 followers
January 20, 2023
Tzili es una chica que parece decepcionar a todos en su familia, es muy poco "inteligente" y no tienen muchas posibilidades de sobrevivir en un mundo que se está tornando hostil hacia los judíos.

En esta novela vemos el horroroso comportamiento humano y el temple de una niña haciéndole frente con ternura e inocencia. El enemigo no solo es el nazi, sino los vecinos indolentes y la propia familia que abandona a Tzili.

Aharon Appelfeld construye con un lenguaje casi de fábula una historia en la que la esperanza brilla en medio de lo cruel. Está alejando de convencionalismos, no dulcifica nada, y uno se queda en paz con Tzili, pues es un respiro de testimonios trágicos.
Profile Image for nihan.
33 reviews
January 19, 2023
son zamanlarda okuduğum hiçbir kitabın finalini beğenemiyorum.
Displaying 1 - 29 of 53 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.